The fantastic National Theatre ‘Live’ initiative in which performances from the National Theatre complex on London’s South Bank are screened live to cinemas across the UK on a designated day now includes the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon.
The NT/RSC Live initiative brings a top-class production within the reach of those who can’t get to the theatre for the stage performance. For more than the cost of a cinema ticket yet substantially less than the theatre seat would cost, would-be theatregoers can enjoy the production screened in such a way that the viewer could be on stage, so close are they to the action. Every subtlety, every nuance is captured, bring an immediacy that even live theatre cannot replicate.
The inaugural screening for this latest pairing was Richard II, starring David Tennant in the title role. With sold out live performances in Stratford, the play transfers to London early in December at the Barbican Theatre,where only a handful of seats remain. This first cinema screening of an RSC production was also sold out across the country and there are encore screenings lined up for December to keep up with the demand.
So what is about Richard II that has caught such a stampede at the box office? Certainly David Tennant is a name that will make many theatregoers reach for their wallets and this production is the first by RSC Artistic Director Greg Doran in his stated aim to stage the entire Shakespeare canon over the next six years.
A strong cast keeps the viewer enthralled at the machinations of Richard II and his court, but this is not just about David Tennant’s engrossing performance. He cuts a Christ-like figure in his bare feet, white robes and flowing hair, but there the similarity ends as his flawed persona, vanity and complicity in the murder of his uncle the Duke of Gloucester ultimately lead to his downfall.
The supporting cast includes Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), Oliver Rix (Duke of Aumerle), Michael Pennington (John of Gaunt),Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York) and Jane Lapotaire (Duchess of Gloucester). John of Gaunt’s ‘this scepter’d isle’ speech was for me just one highlight among so many, with Jane Lapotaire’s grieving yet bent on revenge Duchess of Gloucester credible and chilling.